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The Mausoleum of Theodoric.
The Arian Baptistry.
Dante's Tomb, a neoclassical structure by Camillo Morigia, 1780.

Ravenna is a city and comune in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italymarker. The city is inland, but is connected to the Adriatic Seamarker by a canal. Ravenna was the capital of the Western Roman Empire from 402 till 476. It was later the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Exarchate of Ravenna till 751. From that year till the invasion of Franks, it was the seat of the king of the Lombards and equalled to Paviamarker by Aistulf. It is presently the capital of the Province of Ravenna. At 652.89 km² (252.08 sq mi), Ravenna is the second-largest comune in land area in Italy, although it is only a little more than half the size of the largest, Romemarker.


Ancient era

The origins of Ravenna are uncertain. The first settlement is variously attributed to (and then has seen the copresence of) the Thessalians, the Etruscansmarker and the Umbrians, afterwards its territory was settled also by the Senones, especially the southern countryside of the city (that wasn't part of the lagoon), the Ager Decimanus. Ravenna consisted of houses built on piles on a series of small islands in a marshy lagoon - a situation similar to Venicemarker several centuries later. The Romans ignored it during their conquest of the Po Rivermarker Delta, but later accepted it into the Roman Republic as a federated town in 89 BC. In 49 BC, it was the location where Julius Caesar gathered his forces before crossing the Rubicon. Later, after his battle against Mark Antony in 31 BC, Emperor Augustus founded the military harbor of Classe. This harbor, protected at first by its own walls, was an important station of the Roman Imperial Fleet. Nowadays the city is landlocked, but Ravenna remained an important seaport on the Adriaticmarker until the early Middle Ages. During the German campaigns, Thusnelda, widow of Arminius, and Marbod, King of the Marcomanni, were confined at Ravenna.

Ravenna greatly prospered under Roman rule. Emperor Trajan built a 70 km long aqueduct at the beginning of the 2nd century. In 402, Emperor Honorius transferred the capital of the Western Roman Empire from Milanmarker to Ravenna. The transfer was made primarily for defensive purposes: Ravenna was surrounded by swamps and marshes and had ease of access to Imperial forces of the Eastern Roman Empire. However, in 409, King Alaric I of the Visigoths simply bypassed Ravenna, and went on to sack Romemarker and to take Galla Placidia, daughter of Emperor Theodosius I, hostage. After many vicissitudes, Galla Placidia returned to Ravenna with her son, Emperor Valentinian III and the support of her nephew Theodosius II. Ravenna enjoyed a period of peace, during which time the Christian religion was favoured by the imperial court, and the city gained its most famous monuments, both secular (demolished) and Christian (largely preserved).

In 476, the Western Roman Empire fell. Eastern Emperor Zeno sent Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great to re-take the Italian peninsula. After the Battle of Verona, Odoacer retreated to Ravenna, where he withstood a siege of three years by Theodoric, until the taking of Riminimarker deprived Ravenna of supplies. After Theodoric slew Odoacer, Ravenna was the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdommarker of Italy.
Mosaic of the Palace of Theodoric.
After 493, Theodoric employed Roman architects for secular and religious structures, including the lost palace near Sant'Apollinare Nuovo; the "Palace of Theodoric" was an outbuilding. Theodoric and his followers were Arians, but co-existed peacefully with the Latins. Theodoric died in 526 and was succeeded by his daughter Amalasunta, who was killed in 535.

However, the orthodox Christian Byzantine Emperor Justinian I, opposed both Ostrogoth rule and the Arian variety of Christianity. In 535 his general Belisarius invaded Italy and in 540 conquered Ravenna. Ravenna became the seat of Byzantine government in Italy.

The Restauratio Imperii in Ravenna also benefited from the nearby harbour of Classe (Classis), which is sometimes called the Pompeii of Late Antiquity. The most representative remnant of that period is the church St. Apollinaris (6th-7th century AD), whose relics were laid in the church. Although Classe was founded during the Roman period, it grew mainly during the Late Empire. As Ravenna's port, it was one of the key exchange platforms in the 6th-7th century AD, and the main harbour of the Italian Adriatic seashore.

Exarchate of Ravenna

Following the conquests of Belisarius for the Emperor Justinian I in the sixth century, Ravenna became the seat of the Byzantine governor of Italy, the Exarch, and was known as the Exarchate of Ravenna. It was at this time that the Ravenna Cosmography was written.

Middle Ages and Renaissance

The Lombards, under King Liutprand, occupied Ravenna in 712, but were forced to return it to the Byzantines. However, in 751 the Lombard king, Aistulf, succeeded in conquering Ravenna, thus ending Byzantine rule in northern Italy.

King Pepin of France attacked the Lombards under orders of Pope Stephen II. Ravenna then became territory of the Papal Statesmarker in 784. In return, Pope Adrian I authorized King Charlemagne to take away anything from Ravenna that he liked. Charlemagne made three looting expeditions to Ravenna, removing a vast quantity of Roman columns, mosaics, statues, and other portable items to enrich his capital of Aachenmarker.

Under Papal rule, the archbishop of Ravenna enjoyed autocephaly from the Roman Church - a privilege obtained under Byzantine rule. Due to donations by the Ottonian emperors, the archbishop of Ravenna was the richest in Italy after the Papacy, and was thus successfully able to challenge the temporal authority of the Pope on occasion.

In 1198 Ravenna led a league of Romagnamarker cities against the Emperor, and the Pope was able to subdue it. After the war of 1218 the Traversari family was able to impose its rule in the city, which lasted until 1240. After a short period under an Imperial vicar, Ravenna was returned to the Papal States in 1248 and again to the Traversari until, in 1275, the Da Polenta established their long-lasting seigniory. One of the most illustrious residents of Ravenna at this time was the exiled poet Dante. The last of the Da Polenta, Ostasio III, was ousted by the Republic of Venicemarker in 1440, and the city was annexed to the Venetian territories.File:Ravnna-gallaplacidia.jpg
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna

Ravenna was ruled by Venice until 1509, when the area was invaded in the course of the Italian Wars. In 1512, during the Holy League wars, Ravenna was sacked by the French.

After the Venetian withdrawal, Ravenna was again ruled by legates of the Pope as part of the Papal Statesmarker. The city was damaged in a tremendous flood in May 1636. Over the next 3 centuries, a network of canals diverted nearby rivers and drained nearby swamps, thus reducing the possibility of flooding and creating a large belt of agricultural land around the city.

Modern age

Apart from another short occupation by Venice (1527-1529), Ravenna was part of the Papal States until 1796, when it was annexed to the French puppet state of the Cisalpine Republicmarker, (Italian Republicmarker from 1802, and Kingdom of Italy from 1805). It was returned to the Papapl States in 1814. Occupied by Piedmontese troops in 1859, Ravenna and the surrounding Romagnamarker area became part of the new unified Kingdom of Italy in 1861.

Main sights

Eight early Christian monuments of Ravenna are inscribed on the World Heritage List. These are

Other attractions include:

  • the ancient church of the Spirito Santo, which has maintained the original lines from the 5th century. It was originally an Arian temple. The façade has a noteworthy 16th century portico with 5 arcades.
  • The church of St. John the Evangelist is also from the 5th century, erected by Galla Placidia after a seastorm. It was restored after the World War II bombings.
  • The St. Francis basilica, rebuilt in the 10th-11th centuries over a precedent edifice dedicated to the Apostles and later to St. Peter. Behind the humble brick façade, it has a nave and two aisles. Fragments of mosaics from the primitive church are visible on the floor, which is usually covered by water after heavy rains (together with the crypt). Here the funeral ceremony of Dante Alighieri was held in 1321. The poet is buried in a tomb annexed to the church, the local authorities having resisted for centuries all demands by Florence for return of the remains of its most famous exile.
  • The Baroque church of Santa Maria Maggiore (525-532, rebuilt in 1671). It houses a picture by Luca Longhi.
  • The church of San Giovanni Battista 1683, also of Baroque style, with a Middle Ages belfry.
  • The basilica of Santa Maria in Porto (16th century), with a rich façade from the 18th century. It has a nave and two aisles, with a high cupola. It houses the image of famous Greek Madonna, which was allegedly brought to Ravenna from Constantinople.
  • The nearby Communal Gallery has various works from Romagnoli painters.
  • The Rocca Brancaleone ("Brancaleone Castle"), built by the Venetiansmarker in 1457. Once part of the city walls, it is now a public park. It is divided into two parts: the true Castle and the Citadel, the latter having an extent of 14,000 m².
  • The so-called Palace of Theoderic, in fact the entrance to the former church of San Salvatore. It includes mosaics from the true Palace of the Ostrogoth king.
  • The church of Santa Eufemia (18th century), gives access to the so-called Stone Carpets Domus (6th-7th century): this houses splendid mosaics from a Byzantine palace.
  • The National Museum.


Ravenna has an important commercial and tourist port.

By road, it can be reached through from the highway hub of Bolognamarker or, from Venicemarker, with State Road 309 "Romea". From Rome the fastest connections is the E45 International Road; the other main connection to southern Italy is the State Street 16 "Adriatica".

The railway station has Trenitalia connections to Bolognamarker, Ferraramarker, Venicemarker, Veronamarker and Riminimarker.

The nearest airports are those of Forlìmarker and Bolognamarker.

In literature

Ravenna is the setting for Thomas Middleton's The Witch.

Lord Byron lived in Ravenna between 1819 and 1821, led by the love for a local aristocratic and married young woman, Teresa Guiccioli. Here he continued the Don Juan and wrote the Ravenna Diary, My Dictionary and Recollections.

Oscar Wilde wrote a poem in 1878 entitled Ravenna.

Russian Symbolist poet Alexander Blok wrote a poem entitled Ravenna (May-June 1909) inspired by his Italian journey (spring 1909).

During his travels, German poet Hermann Hesse came across Ravenna and was inspired to write two poems of the city. They are entitled Ravenna (1) and Ravenna (2).

In Guy Gavriel Kay's Sarantine Mosaic, the protagonist, Caius Crispus, is a mosaicist from Varena, a city closely based on Ravenna.

In the trilogy "The Darkangel," a settlement on the moon is named NuRavenna after 'a very old city' on Earth.

In film

Michelangelo Antonioni filmed his 1964 movie Red Desert (Deserto Rosso) within the industrialised areas of the Pialassa valley within the city limits.

International relations

Twin towns — Sister cities

Ravenna is twinned with:


  1. From classis, Latin "fleet".

External links

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